Anyone with a stuttering problem either past or present, definitely understands the embarrassment that goes with trying to get the words out that just won’t come. To make matters worse, when the words won’t come frustration sets in and only complicates the problem, and makes the stuttering worse. This scenario is all too common among individuals with a stammering, or stuttering problem. Many people assume they understand the cause of stuttering, but in reality there is no definitive cause yet known.
For many stutterers, it’s been a lifelong issue with trying to talk smoothly without embarrassing themselves with unintended stops and starts during sentence. But, when other people are on the receiving end they oftentimes think they understand the cause due to the reaction by the person speaking. Of course, the frustration surely adds to the stuttering but it is not a direct cause. Either is stress, but it too, can add to the problem. Let’s take a look at what isn’t true about stuttering. There are many myths that at times may seem to make sense, but none actually nail down a direct cause of stuttering. Here’s a list of the top five:
- Stutterers are dumb. Perhaps the most hurtful words that are said about stutterers is they’re dumb. This is simply not the case. In fact, there is no evidence anywhere to suggest a correlation between “smarts” and stuttering.
- Nervous people stutter. Being nervous has nothing to do with stuttering. A person who stutters, yet is nervous, too, has their full complement of personality traits that are as normal as anyone.
- Stuttering is easy to “catch”. Again, this another myth that holds no truth. However, recent tests seem to indicate the possibility of genetics or family history or even family environment might play a role in the beginning stages of stuttering.
- Stuttering can be stopped or controlled. Because a cause hasn’t been found, there currently isn’t a solution to stop or control stuttering, as some might think. Taking a deep breath before speaking, for example is just one of many so called solutions. But, it’s been noted that trying to produce slower and clearer speech does help.
- Stress is a direct cause. To date, nothing suggests that stress causes stuttering, but it’s conceivable that stress can make stuttering worse.
The name “Stuttering John” refers to noted radio and TV personality John Melendez. Melendez is an accomplished interviewer both on radio and TV renowned for this unique interviewing techniques and no-holds-barred interviewing style. This caught the eye of Howard Stern and Melendez continued with Stern for 15 seasons on his radio show. In fact, it was during Stern’s show John Melendez earned the nickname, “Stuttering John.” Melendez also appeared in comedy sketches on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno as well as becoming the show’s nightly announcer, who was able to control his stammer on the show. It’s hard to understand how this happens, but if a cause for stuttering was known, a cure would surely wouldn’t be far off.
How to stop stuttering
As you already know, there is no known cause for stuttering, but some lean towards a physical solution to stop stuttering by way of certain exercises for building up one’s throat muscles. This is due to the belief that most causes of stuttering are due to weak muscles in the throat. This has yet to be proven as an effective method to stop stuttering but some claim it does work. One the preeminent reasons for success according to this method is first, understanding that is only a physical limitation and exercise is the one best solution to stop stuttering. Further, it’s suggested that in order for this method to succeed, the person affected must learn to gain confidence by sticking to the method and being persistent in stopping their stuttering problem altogether, including a strong desire to succeed and the confidence to see it through to its natural end.
What causes stuttering?
We already know there is no known definitive cause for stuttering, but theories abound about the cause. One of these theories suggests stuttering is a learned behavior and normal, non-stuttering children for example, begin to speak too rapidly or have difficulty searching for the “correct” words at a time in their young lives when speech and language are still developing. In addition, it’s thought that possibly the condition is worsened when they’re criticized for stuttering, causing nervousness or anxiety about their condition, in turn causing a worsening stuttering problem.
A second theory proposes a psychological cause for stuttering which can and should be treated with psychotherapy. Still, this is theory but any help that can affect a solution or cause is definitely worth pursuing. Therapy is beneficial for those in need, and if therapy contributes to a better approach on solving a stuttering problem, by all means it must be included in the normal treatment process.
Yet another third theory is based on the possibility the cause of stuttering is organic, focusing on neurological differences in the brains of stutterers and non-stutterers. It further states that because some interference with speech is at times caused by emotional issues or certain situations that trigger stuttering is limited to only neurological or physiological components. With the exception of these factors being present, all other aspects of persons who stutter are completely normal.
Still more studies seem to indicate strongly that its genetics at the core of stuttering problems. But, it’s still not known how genetics plays a role in the development or recovery but it is well documented stuttering begins in childhood devoid of obvious causes other than simply a young body not fully developed. Stuttering occurring in young children under 10 years of age usually results in fluent speech by adulthood. However, sometimes the condition may become chronic, leading researchers to believe the cause truly is physical and not neurologically related. This contradicts other opinions on the direct cause of stuttering and ties the condition to physical factors, rather than having anything to do with psychological factors, stress or family environment.
Stuttering runs in families
It’s known stuttering seems to run in families which is another reason genetics might be considered a direct cause. Still, the level of influence is still unproven but speech researchers lean more toward a genetic cause more than anything else at this point. Now, scientists are making advances in identifying genes causing other disorders and this is leading a push into identifying the genes that cause stuttering as well. The data gleaned so far, albeit limited, shows promise in highlighting abnormalities in the cerebral cortex, measured when the affected person is actually speaking. As a matter of fact, the Stuttering Foundation of America is also supporting and actively participating in brain research to better understand the relationship between speech fluency and language. Their efforts are heavily focused on gaining information to help them develop ways to detect stuttering in individuals most at risk in developmental stages. In addition, the Foundation is involved in genetic research to finding the genes that cause stuttering and how the effect people who stutter.
Fortunately, many people today accept and actually congratulate speech-challenged people in very positive ways, yet there those who aren’t willing to take part quite yet. Their hesitance is mostly due to a lack of knowledge about stuttering and that people who stutter are very normal people with a speech problem. Nothing else about them is different, but still it’s an embarrassing load to carry, not knowing when the next conversation will take place. The founders of the “Did I Stutter?” project, Zach Richter and Joshua St. Pierre, stutterers themselves, decided to address this and other issues plaguing stutters and make their voices heard. Their goal was to introduce another way of thinking about stuttering and other speech disabilities. They’ve committed themselves to this project in the hope of encouraging other people with speech disabilities to speak up and be heard.
Why do people stutter?
Does the “why” in “why do people stutter” imply people stutter on purpose? Actually, no it doesn’t. Instead, it’s because people who stutter can’t help it. If they could stop it, they would, which leads to the question about why people stutter. As you’ve read this article, you now realize there isn’t a known cause for stuttering but many experts, parents, researchers, etc. are somewhat divided as to the real cause. For now, the most popular reason(s) are either genetic or physical. No one knows for sure but research is in high gear right now in the hopes of finding the real cause of stuttering. A cure or an effective treatment for may still be a little far off into the future, but luckily many advances have already been made which leads to optimism that someday soon, a treatment or even a cure for stuttering is within reach. Among the ideas and techniques for treatment, a common thread among them is finding ways to reduce stress in the individual to allow the person to calmly speak the words without worrying about fluency or emphasis and congratulate them for correctly and fluently (to the best of their own ability) speak certain words. The net effect is the person is less likely to develop anxiety about their performance and in turn builds their self-confidence that they can do better as long as they keep trying.
Finally, a few terms related to stuttering that are misunderstood and should be cleared up. To stammer is to stutter, and to stutter is to stammer. In fact, stuttering “is called stammering in England while Americans call it stuttering. No difference” Speech Foundation India, (2011). But, just to expand a little about some little known facts that should also be discussed, we now know from a reliable source that stuttering and stammering are one and the same. So, the next time the question, “what is stammering?” comes up, instead of wondering if it’s a different form of stuttering, you will know the answer. Here are a few more interesting facts about stuttering:
- The frequency of stuttering worldwide is roughly 1% regardless of culture, location or social status.
- Stuttering in males is more common than in women, by an 8 to 1 margin.
- Typically, the first-born male child is a stutterer.
- Roughly 65% of persons who stutter are members of a family with a history of stuttering, with the father affected more often. In addition, stuttering begins before age 5 and if left untreated, it usually reaches its peak around the early to late teens.
Stuttering is and will continue to be an embarrassing event for anyone who experiences the difficulty that comes with trying to speak words aloud but just won’t come. It’s not that the person doesn’t know what to say, but rather it’s the frustration of knowing what to say combined with the inability to force the words out completely. When this happens enough, it’s no surprise then why many persons with a stuttering problem choose not to speak at all, or speak very little. In this situation, a lack of confidence may develop depending on the age and maturity level of the person which can complicate the problem. On the other hand, some will simply accept their particular disability and decide this is who they are and will spend their lives as happy and well-adjusted individuals who refuse to let their disability negatively affect their lives. Deciding to get help for stuttering is a personal decision that should never be taken lightly. Thankfully, more people understand stuttering has no effect on the individual’s personality or character. This should lead to more acceptance by people who at one time felt uncomfortable in the presence of a stutterer. Patience proves to be once again, the best approach to this kind situation. Remember a stutterer is no different than anyone else and they, too, have much to offer and can also be a fully functioning and contributing member of society in the same capacity as anyone else.